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Thailand/Asean summit - interview

Storming Asean hotel was self-defence, says red shirts' leader

Article published on the 2009-04-11 Latest update 2009-04-12 09:10 TU

Pattaya red shirts demonstrate(Photo: Reuters)

Pattaya red shirts demonstrate
(Photo: Reuters)

The violence which led to the cancellation of the south-east Asian summit in Thailand was an "act of self-defence", a protest leader told RFI on Saturday. Red-shirted protesters had been shot at and stoned, he claims, provoking them to storm a luxury hotel in the resort of Pattaya.  

Protest leader speaks: Jakkraphob Bhenkair of the United Front for Democracy and against Dictatorship

11/04/2009 by Salil Sarkar

"We didn’t mean for the Pattaya incident to happen," says Jakkraphob Bhenkair, of the United Front for Democracy and against Dictatorship, going on to describe it as "an act of defence".

The demonstrators were confronted by police and troops but also faced a new group, monarchist "blue shirts", described by some observers as pro-government militias.

"We were shot at, we were thrown stones at," says Bhenkair, claiming that many red shirts were injured and saying that he has had an unconfirmed report that one was killed.

But, although saying that the events were "not a deliberate act of violence", Bhenkair describes them as "victory at the very first stage".

"The Abhisit government has been trying to say that their control over these Asean meetings is instrumental to the image of them controlling the country," he says. "So when they’re proved to have lost control over this, despite excessive force of the military and the police that they put there, so it must be judged as a failure."

The red shirt leader says that the protesters  are sticking to the demands they made when they started their protests, including the resignation of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejajjiva, new elections and a return to a constitution scrapped when Thaksin Shinawattra was sacked as Prime Minister in 2006.  

Saturday's cancellation of the Asean summit was "a big blow", says Kavi Chongkittavorn of The Nation newspaper.  

Comment: Kavi Chongkittavorn, Chief Editor of the Nation newspaper group

11/04/2009 by Salil Sarkar

The Prime Minister "has to ponder number one, his leadership, number two, the stability of his government, number three, ... how he will address the political cleaveage resulting from this incident," he says.

Although Chongkittavorn believes that there may have been secret contact between protest leaders and the government, Bhenkair denies that any meeting has taken place.

"I doubt if we would want one at this point," he says.